Switching Careers in Tech

All of us want to discover our true self. Find the place we belong to, the work we’d be passionate about. To do that you’ll most probably have to try a number of options, knock on lots of doors, get obsessed with different ideas, take risks, trying to experience as many things as possible. Finally, you stop, trying hard to hear the voice of reason, and make your choice. God knows if it’s the right one. Maybe pretty soon you’ll have to start from scratch. Maybe not. One way or another, that’s how you learn what life truly is.

The Beginning

After finishing high school I entered the School of Telecommunications and Measurements. My choice was pretty natural as network technologies and cellular networks in particular were actively developing back then, and I really wanted to be a part of that. So I did. After graduation I worked as LOS-engineer for one of the biggest mobile network operators of the country. But when my contract was over, I realized that cellular networks were taking a backseat to a new rising giant — Tech. That’s when I realized I have to move on and try myself in this field.

I took a deep breath and started a new job search. Having a degree in engineering I had pretty good chances to get hired. Sure, my knowledge wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but I had some expertise in working with different operating systems, knew the principles of network engineering and network protocols functioning. Besides, I had basic programming skills and was pretty savvy about hardware. As I was running out of money at that time, I had to act fast. That’s why I decided to try myself in software testing — it was more likely to find a job in this field than to become a junior developer, at least at that time of my life. I had 5 interviews before I got a job offer. That’s how I became a quality assurance engineer at Plarium, a MMORTS game development company with millions of players worldwide.

For about 4 years I worked at Plarium where I was engaged in software testing and maintenance for both existing and brand new game dev projects, on different platforms and engines, including Unity. While I was a member of Plarium crew I learned a lot and from the best, met many interesting professionals. The projects I worked on included Stormfall, Total Domination, TD: Reborn and some others. I enjoyed it. But at some point I realized I was burning out seeing no more opportunities for growth and development. So it was time for my Plarium story to end, for every end is a new beginning.

I started a new job search. It wasn’t long, though: right after the second interview I got a job offer from another game dev company — Ubisoft. To be honest, it was during that time when I started thinking of switching my career and having a shot at software development. On the other hand, I was actually pretty excited about working for a company whose games I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and I thought it could be a worth a shot. I accepted the offer, but the idea of switching careers was still there — I decided to give it some time to mature.

Those 9 months I worked for Ubisoft were filled with events: I took part in creating Watch Dogs 2, met real game dev ninjas, gained new expertise, made a few friends and got disillusioned with big names. My team was working on PC games.

In a few months I realized I didn’t belong there anymore. It wasn’t only about the team and what I was doing, but it was also about the industry in general. Creating games is really cool, but I didn’t feel fully engaged in the creation process. I could have tried to apply for a trainee developer position — it was open at that time, but I did not have the required skills. Thus, I decided to work ‘till the contract ended and leave right after the launch of the game.

The Path

That’s how I found myself at crossroads again. I knew I could make progress in programming if I tried really hard and become a junior developer after the expiration of the contract with Ubisoft. It was clear to me that I’d have to reconsider my lifestyle, master time-management skills and learn to sort out priorities. Looking ahead, I can tell you that all these things were really tough for me, though sometimes I thought I was doing pretty well.

Every end is a new beginning.

First Steps

It all started with HTML, CSS and JS course at Codecademy. But, frankly speaking, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, except for five-year-olds, if they want to scratch the surface. At the same time, I myself felt like a five-year-old when I looked at the requirements for junior developer positions.

I had to keep learning, but I was drowning in the ocean of information on the Internet. Finally, I pulled myself together and picked a few online courses to get the basics quickly, several books for more profound learning and some Internet resources to stay tuned with the latest news from the technology world.

After I mapped out a learning plan, I signed up for GitHub and Stackoverflow accounts. As for the Git, I’d like to recommend a very good online course at Codeschool and such books as “Up and go with Git and Github” by Ray Villalobos and “Pro Git” by Scott Chacon and Ben Straub.

I think it’s really difficult to overestimate the importance of solid understanding of networking protocols, such as TCP/IP, HTTP/HTTPS/HTTP2, SSH, FTP. Knowing the ways of the command line is also pretty important.

There is also one special book I’d like to recommend everyone who would like to immerse into the mysterious world of computer technologies and find out how computers work under the hood. This is “Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software” by Charles Petzold.

The better you understand how things work at the lower level, the more confident you are.

Challenges

If you decided to become a specialist in tech, you should be up to the challenge. Sometimes you will think you can’t take it any longer and you may wanna stop trying. Be strong and persistent, do not give up!

Some time ago, I asked a friend of mine who was a newbie developer back then what it was like to be learning programming. His answer was “No life, buddy” — so true. And that’s just the way it was for him too. Having a full-time job he would come home right after work and start coding. I think it’s a perfect example of aspiration and commitment. The guy became a full-fledged junior developer in six months. It didn’t happen so quick in my case, but at least I had someone to look up to.

I felt on edge at times. There was too little time and too much information that seemed impossible to grasp, not to mention various unforeseen difficulties which would pop up from time to time. The chances seemed entirely against me, I didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I procrastinated a lot and even started thinking of giving it all up. Fortunately, I had enough persistence not to do it.

Be persistent, don’t give up.

The Approach

I needed to come up with an efficient and well-organized schedule where I could fit in my studying, full-time job and everything else. I had a nine-to-six workday with an hour for lunch which I turned into an hour for studying. I would treat myself to a short break after the work hours in order to spend the rest of time before going to bed on studying. I spared Friday evenings, though, to have a couple of beers and just relax.

On average, I spent at least 20–30 hours a week studying. I tried to log time and mark topics I was getting into; I decided to use mind maps for this. But they were growing very rapidly so it became inefficient and I had to stop using them. However, this technique might turn out to be useful for someone else, so it’s worth trying.

Here is the technology stack I was focusing on:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • SaSS/Less
  • Core Javascript
  • React JS

You might say it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and you’d be right. But it’s rather difficult to come up with a really comprehensive list. I realized I needed to point out at least most significant topics and all the nuances would pop up along the line.

Before delving into programming, I wanted to cover the essentials of HTML and CSS, such as box model, HTML forms, grid layout, CSS selectors, Flexbox, etc. It was also necessary to learn at least one preprocessor, become familiar with MVC pattern, get a handle on web development tools and understand how browsers work under the hood.

Acceptance

The more I learned, the more I wanted to take on a new job. However, I was realistic enough to realize it was too early for that. I knew I was still at the very beginning of my way, so I had to be patient and keep on studying. Nevertheless, I prepared my CV and started to look for some job opportunities. I also told all my friends what I’ve been up to lately in case someone needed a guy with my expertise.

As the time was passing by I was getting less engaged in my current job, though I made sure it didn’t influence its quality. I was getting more and more detached from all I had been doing those five years. My decision was firm: as soon as my contract expires I quit and start a new job search. The date of my resignation coincided with the new year, which was pretty symbolic: new year — new life, you know. Not that it meant much to me, but still :)

Job search

There I was, looking for a job again, but I was pretty happy because I knew what I wanted and I was going to get it sooner or later. The first thing I had to do was to draw some kind of conclusion from what I’d learned and find out how much I was worth on the job market. I updated the list of my skills on LinkedIn and posted that I was looking for a job on all my social media accounts. Then I sent my CV to all the companies I was interested in and which, I thought, could be interested in me.

Hardly had I attended the first interview when an opportunity came up. Talking to my old friends from Zajno design studio, I told them the news and what I was up to. As it turned out, they were working on a new project using the same technology stack I was learning at that time. I wondered if they needed a trainee on their team. They thought it over and decided to hire me, and I’m still thankful for this great opportunity.

Real professionals and trainees, top specialists and newbies, we all learn from each other and help each other here at Zajno.

I’ve been working in Zajno for 6 months already. During this time I took part both in several noncommercial, internal projects and in some external ones. I’m working in a friendly and just awesome team with a dozen of cool and pretty bold guys, eager to learn and ready to experiment, who are committed to what they’re doing. They are people of various talents and different specializations, but they all know what, how and why they are doing what they do, and they love it. And so do I. Real professionals and trainees, top specialists and newbies, we all learn from each other and help each other, constantly solving different problems and finding new solutions. Having ups and downs, we hone our skills day after day becoming better versions of ourselves.

The conclusion

Breaking out of your comfort zone is always painful. But it was exactly what I needed back then, and I am very glad I had the courage to make changes in my professional life. Yes, my learning curve was steep, the transition from game testing to web development wasn’t that smooth and quick. But I feel how much I’ve grown this year and it motivates me to go even further.

I believe that all problems and obstacles exist in our mind only and we can achieve anything when we want it really bad. If you want to make some changes in your life — it’s always worth trying, you just need to think of all the pros and cons.

If you are up to something like this, I believe my experience can be of some help to you. I hope you’ll do it better than me. Such career-switchers are always frowned upon and sometimes they experience difficulties getting a job as employers tend to think that such guys can’t make up their mind. But there are some strong arguments you can always put forward — deep knowledge, good skills, considerable expertise and strong motivation.

Have you guys ever done anything similar? Please share your experience in comments, I’d love to hear your story.

P.S.: Zajno also does Weekly Music Playlist on Spotify! We thought it would be awesome to share the music that inspires us. Feel free to follow us on Spotify as well and stay tuned for some sweet tunes! I am actually the one working on these ;)

P.P.S.: if you liked this article be sure to clap — as a newbie writer it means the world!

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